America must continue to invest in international progress
America faces a very different set of challenges in the world than when I became a Marine. During the Cold War, it was easy to tell who our enemies were, but today we face foes that require using all of the tools in our foreign policy arsenal to keep our nation safe and secure.
Since 9/11, our nation has learned that what happens in one part of the world matters here at home. With the ease of travel and the spread of information, we no longer have the luxury of focusing only on what is happening at home. Our military alone cannot keep us safe, which is why we need our civilian development and diplomatic operations at their best. Right now we are all watching as our government faces tough choices about how to get our fiscal house back in order. One place where we cannot afford to cut corners, though, is our security. That is why in addition to ensuring our military is strong, we must provide adequate resources for our International Affairs Budget. Only one percent of federal spending, this is a cost-effective way to keep us safe and demonstrate America's leadership in the world.
Around the globe, American development and diplomacy programs are fighting terrorism, preventing conflicts before they start, and building on the gains made by our armed forces in conflict zones. This is truly a bargain for the American people in terms of dollars, but more importantly in terms of our men and women in uniform. As former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates says, "Development is a lot cheaper than sending soldiers."
I saw this throughout my military career, and in particular while at the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Rather than looking at something from either a military or civilian perspective, we should look at it from a national security perspective. Our military is the finest fighting force in the world, but it's not the job of our soldiers to build schools and establish rule of law--things that make for a lasting peace. This is the job of our diplomats and development experts.
The next few months are especially critical to demonstrating our leadership and engagement in the world. While our troops will be out of Iraq by the end of the year, that doesn't mean the challenges we face there are over. If we cut the capability of the State Department and USAID to take charge and finish the job, we risk losing the fragile gains our men and women in uniform fought so hard to achieve.
The rapid transitions currently ongoing in the Middle East and North Africa are new opportunities for us to help ensure a safer world and in turn, a safer America. We can support democracy and new allies in a key region or risk greater instability and a whole new class of enemies. We want to be in the driver's seat, and that means shaping world events.
This is not just a security matter, as our international affairs programs help build stable democracies and economies that can become markets for American products. When U.S. businesses can sell more of what they make, they can grow and create jobs here at home to meet that higher demand. Today, 95 percent of consumers live overseas, and local businesses have to reach those customers. Our global engagement is especially important to Charleston's economy, given the port is responsible for nearly 55,000 local jobs and contributes over $3 billion to the local economy.
It's not often we can solve two of the most pressing challenges facing our nation with one cost-effective solution, but that is exactly the case with the International Affairs Budget. This strategic investment ensures America is a leader in the world while keeping us safe and creating jobs. After four decades of service in uniform, I have seen firsthand that these programs work to protect our national security. That's good for families here in Charleston and for our country as a whole.
Gen. James Cartwright, USMC (Ret.), served as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 2007-11. He will speak Sunday night at The Citadel with Sen. Lindsey Graham on the importance of U.S. engagement in the world.